So what is homogeneity? Homogeneity refers to keeping things identical or non differentiable from one another on purpose. For example, Cloud Service Providers create homogenous infrastructure on a massive scale by deploying commodity hardware in their datacenters, thus enjoying lower incremental costs which they pass on to the consumer via lower prices. Technology architects can similarly design their applications and services to run over these homogenous computing nodes or building blocks, facilitating horizontal scaling capabilities commonly referred to as elastic computing. In this article, we will explore how homogeneity has been in use long before the era of modern technology and also derive meaningful takeaways from each particular adaptation of homogeneity.
Agility – Military Tactics
From the dawn of greatest of ancient civilizations, battles were fought and won by ambitious generals relying on the strength of their strategies and ability to quickly adapt their tactics to changing battlefield situations. The conquering Romans provide a fascinating study on the implementation of homogeneity and standardization at the fundamental unit level. A Roman Legion was subdivided into 10 units or cohorts, with each cohort further subdivided into six centuries, numbering 80 men on average.
While each Century served as an individual unit in battle and had autonomy of movement under the command of a centurion. the true tactical advantage of the Roman Legion was seen through the combination of these units on the battlefield, known as formations. Each formation presented a different pattern of deploying military units, optimized for various scenarios and terrains, including troop movement and battle formations depending on the relative strength of one’s army and that of opposing forces. For example, the Wedge formation highlighted below, drew the strongest elements of the force into the center that could be used to drive forward through opposing forces. Similarly, the Strong Right Flank formation provided tactical strength versus an opposing army under the principle that a strong right flank could quickly overrun an opposing force’s left flank since the enemy’s left-hand side would be encumbered by shields and less agile to sideways strikes.
Under the watchful eye of a skilled and experienced commander, the Roman Legion was a force to be reckoned with, but this ultimately relied on the abilities of each individual unit to be deployed rapidly in battle and to act reliably in performing their role. The Romans dominated the battlefield, besting even the famed Greek Phalanx due to the agility by which the Legion could change formations in the heat of battle. Our takeaway here is that homogeneous building blocks provide scalability and flexibility in response to rapidly changing situations.
Operational Efficiency – Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines has reached great commercial success in part to its strategy of operating a homogenous fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. The utilization of a single build of aircraft greatly enhances operational efficiencies in terms of technical support, training, holding spare parts and even route planning, since passenger and baggage loads are fairly consistent across each plane. It’s also less complicated to plan for fleet growth and to allocate resources in anticipation of future demand with a homogenous unit. The task of staffing employees for flights is also greatly simplified, since aircrews are trained to operate one type of aircraft across several variants and the task of scheduling crews to support multiple routes along Southwest’s Point-to-Point system becomes a much simpler endeavor. Southwest Chairman Gary Kelly announced plans in April 2012 to acquire 74 Boeing 737-800s by 2013 in order to augment their existing fleet of 737-700s. This expansion represents an incremental upgrade to their existing fleet capacity, in response to greater demand across Southwest’s expanding network and also to capture greater economy amidst rising fuel costs. An important takeaway from Southwest Airlines is that homogenization leads to operational efficiencies and also drives competitive advantage especially in highly price sensitive markets. Most importantly, homogenization has tangible benefits by directly enhancing profits.
Build Standardization – MacDonald’s Fast Food Restaurants
Probably one of the most classic examples of enhanced operational efficiency derived from developing a homogenous product, this iconic fast-food provider was founded on the principles of consistency, homogeneity and ease of preparation. While in recent years, MacDonald’s has stepped up its efforts to localize its menu in an effort suit local palates, over 30% of revenues are driven by sales of core items that include the Big Mac, hamburger, cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets and their world-famous french fries as stated by CEO Jim Skinner during a 2011 earnings call. Sticking to a shorter, standardized menu was part of the company’s push to adhere to stringent quality standards and became a crucial factor in building operational efficiencies from resource procurement capabilities during company’s international expansion in the 1970s. MacDonald’s was specific and exacting in it’s standards when expanding into new markets, to the point of defining the genetic variety of potatoes to use in it’s french fries. This is an important takeaway particularly from the perspective of a business that is expanding into International markets and whose products are not exactly exportable from one country to another. Standardization and homogenization of a product catalog makes it easier to decide early on whether to local source for materials or to bring your own.
Resource Sharing – Automobile Twinning
A long-perceived benefit of consolidating automobile manufacturers into several large corporations that govern the production of numerous brands such as America’s General Motors Group and Ford Motor Company as well as Germany’s Volkswagen Group lies in the ability to utilize a common drive train or chassis that can be deployed across different brands or makes of automobiles. For example, the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute are all built on the same chassis and share a large proportion of their components. The differences in these cars tend more to be aesthetic in nature, since they’re designed to appeal to different consumer segments, nevertheless the financial benefits to the automobile manufacturer are far more tangible. By getting design teams across various brands to collaborate at an early stage in a car’s development, manufacturers can assemble a common design platform, of which elements can be later customized to fulfill individual brand attributes. The results are that manufacturers are able to reap huge benefits from doubling or in some cases tripling their economies of scale as well as accelerating returns on their R&D investment dollars. Our takeaway here is that common components or build elements can be identified and jointly developed as shared resources to prevent duplication of effort and wastage of resources. Service Oriented Architectures that subscribe to a shared services model are a great example of this philosophy in action.
In this article, we explored how the fundamental Cloud Architecture principle of homogenization could provide agility to the Roman Legions, operating efficiencies to Southwest Airlines, standardization to MacDonald’s restaurants and cost savings and improved ROI for major automotive manufacturers. The fact is, examples abound in the world to showcase the rational concepts behind building applications in the Cloud and for this very reason, the Cloud is an exciting and fundamentally compelling evolution of computing for our generation because it makes sense! Thank you for reading.
RoadChimp is a published author and trainer who travels globally, writing and speaking about technology and how we can lend paradigms from other industries in order to build upon our understanding of a rapidly emerging technologies. The Chimp started off his technology career by building one of the first dot.com startups of its type in Asia and subsequently went on to gain expertise in Large Scale computing in North America, the Caribbean and Europe. Chimp is a graduate of Columbia Business School and
Article on Roman Military Tactics (http://romanmilitary.net/strategy/legform/)
Blog Article on Southwest Airlines (http://blog.kir.com/archives/2010/03/the_genius_of_s.asp)
MacDonald’s Menu breakdown of profitability (http://adage.com/article/news/mcdonald-s-brings-u-s-sales-years/232319/)
FTC study on MacDonald’s International Expansion (http://www.ftc.gov/be/seminardocs/04beyondentry.pdf)
Report on Automotive Twinning (http://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/twinned-vehicles-same-cars-different-brands.html#chart)